Love Letters at the Rheem Theatre
Tony Dow and Beverly Washburn perform beloved play at Rheem Theatre, October 8 and 9
Two icons of American pop culture will visit Moraga this weekend to perform Love Letters, A.R. Gurney's beloved play about two people reading letters and notes to one another during a lifelong relationship.
The two-hander classic, well-known for its simple staging and powerhouse melodrama, has been performed by a jaw-dropping list of actors since its 1988 debut—Kathleen Turner, John Rubenstein, Carol Burnett, Timothy Hutton, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Earl Jones are among the many acclaimed actors who have taken the roles of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, childhood friends and lifelong pen pals, whose correspondence over 50 years reveals much about life's ambitions and dreams—and the possible tragedy of unrequited love.
On October 8 and 9, film and television icons Beverly Washburn (Old Yeller) and Tony Dow (Leave It To Beaver) will perform Love Letters in one of the intimate auditoriums at the historic Rheem Theatre in Moraga. The play's material is perfectly appropriate for the longtime friends who met on the set of Leave it to Beaver in the early 1960s, when Washburn guest-starred on an episode in which her bookish girl went on a date with Dow's gentleman-teen Wally Cleaver. In real life, the actors were smitten with each other and kept a friendship over a similar amount of time as the characters in Love Letters.
"I had a giant crush on Tony, just like every girl in America," says Washburn, who recalls meeting Dow on Leave It To Beaver's closed set at the invitation of her former cast member Barbara Billingsly, who played June Cleaver. Once on set, Washburn not only met Dow, but caught the attention of a casting director, who cast her in an episode as Wally's awkward date.
"We actually dated in our young teenage years," says Dow. "I always really liked her, but I was shy and not forward. We've remained friends for years."
Dow adds that he can't wait to reconnect with his teenage costar in Love Letters. "It will be really interesting to work together, especially with this material," says Dow, who is now an acclaimed sculptor based in Santa Monica mountains. "It's a powerful, very emotional play, it talks about people who don't follow their heart and get stuck in their lives. When I first read it, it was so emotional that I could not get through it."
Dow has performed Love Letters several times, with his New Leave it to Beaver costar Janice Kent, as well as shows with Three's Company star Joyce DeWitt and Waltons actress Judy Norton. The October 8 and 9 performances will be the first time Washburn has performed the play.
"I'm so excited, I can't wait to see Tony and to get his input," says Washburn, who visited the Rheem Theatre in 2011 for a screening of Old Yeller. "I also just love the area, so it will be wonderful to visit with friends that weekend."